This time around it’s the turn of Fall of Kings, the last book in the trilogy and somewhat aptly named, given that Gemmell passed away before he could finish the work. His wife, Stella Gemmell, who worked with him throughout the writing process for the Troy trilogy, took up the mantle and ended up completing the novel on his behalf.
I won’t say the transition between authors is perfect - I think some of the battle scenes, particularly towards the end, lacked Gemmell’s usual, fluid combat direction - but I will say that it’s very difficult to identify which parts were completed by David and which were drawn from his notes by Stella. It’s also worth mentioning that Stella’s work was good enough to win her own gig from the publisher, and her novels The City and The Immortal Throne are also now available.
So, onto the story itself. As the title suggests, this last book brings to a conclusion the epic battle for the city of Troy, and in a war where all the kings of Ancient Greece have gathered, not all of them can survive. Here’s the blurb:
Darkness falls on the Great Green, and the Ancient World is fiercely divided.
On the killing fields outside the golden city of Troy, forces loyal to the Mykene King mass. Among them is Odysseus, fabled storyteller and reluctant ally to the Mykene, who knows that he must soon face his former friends in deadly combat.
Within the city, the Trojan king waits. Ailing and bitter, his hope is pinned on two heroes: his favourite son Hektor, and the dread Helikaon who will wreak terrible vengeance for the death of his wife at Mykene hands.
War has been declared. As enemies, who are also kinsmen, are filled with bloodlust, they know that many of them will die, and that some will become heroes: heroes who will live for ever in a story that will echo down the centuries.
Throughout the trilogy Gemmell weaves a number of threads into a glorious web, with the golden city of Troy standing at its centre. The primary reason for the conflict that tears this web apart is the rivalry of two kings: the Trojan, Priam, and the Mykene, Agamemnon.
As a man of greed and ambition, Agamemnon believes his growing empire needs the wealth of Troy to keep it afloat. He gathers men to his side through force of arms or skilled manipulation, slowly gathering the largest invasion force the Ancient World has ever seen.
On the other side, Priam’s wealth and arrogance makes him feel invincible. He believes his son Hektor can overcome any enemy, and that the walls of Troy can withstand any siege. This sense of pride means he is all too quick to make enemies of what very few friends he has left, and soon enough Troy has lost any hope of victory.
Both men believe the gods are on their side, having twisted the words of their favourite prophecies to suit their personal goals. Yet the gods are fickle beings, and prophecies are merely the instruments with which they manipulate their wayward children.
In contrast to Priam and Agamemnon, Odysseus and Helikaon had enjoyed a lifetime of friendship, akin to that of father and son, before events in the previous two books drove a wedge between them. Nevertheless, the first third of Fall of Kings sees the two men reunited on a daring rescue mission, where old mistakes are forgiven and their friendship is allowed to heal. As they part for the last time, knowing they will meet again at Troy as enemies and that at least one of them will die, Gemmell drives home one of the main themes of his Troy saga. War is a waste, he seems to say, played out by young men to the whims of their elders, and that good and evil can be found on both sides in any conflict.
Like Agamemnon and Priam, the other big rivalry to reach it’s conclusion in Fall of Kings is another taken directly from Homer’s version of the Trojan War: the two champions of their respective sides in the conflict, Achilles and Hektor. Throughout the series we hear tell of these two legendary figures, and even see them in action on a few occasions, particularly Hektor. But it’s not until the final act that we actually see them facing off, and Gemmell gives an interesting take on how their duel may have unfolded.
That’s not the only part of the original mythology Gemmell uses. He also covers the use of the Trojan Horse, aiming for a much more believable version than the Greek original. There are also references to a real world disaster of the times, and the revelation of a biblical figure.
As ever though, it’s the small stuff between the characters that truly makes the story. Gemmell explores themes of friendship and brotherhood through the eyes of Kalliades and Banokles, the Mykene heroes of Shield of Thunder. And he also tackles the question of love, duty, and honour, as Andromache finds herself torn between the man she was forced to marry, whom she has grown to love and respect, and the love of her life.
There’s a lot of meat to this story, yet the Gemmells pull it off almost perfectly. The writing is sharp and to the point, making it easy to read, and all of the major plot threads developed throughout the trilogy are drawn to their satisfying conclusions. It’s an epic ending to an epic saga.
While it’s a shame David Gemmell’s time was cut short, it feels like the Troy trilogy is the perfect legacy to his writing career. Considering he made his name writing heroic fantasy, it seems fitting that his last books should tell the story of some of the greatest heroes in myth and legend, and that his final book should mark the end of the Age of Heroes.
4/5 - A wonderful ending to an epic saga.